Thursday, February 5, 2015

snow and paint

It's been a frigid, snowy few weeks here in Boston. As I type this, it's 10 degrees outside. The city saw a record snowfall of 40 inches in just seven days, and with that immense amount of snow comes parking and shoveling woes, subway shutdowns, driving bans and just general misery when trying to get anything done outside. During these snowstorms I've been hunkered down in my studio, enjoying our fireplace and the snowy view and getting a lot of painting and organizing done. 

During the first blizzard there was a 24-hour driving ban and subway shutdown, but Mike still had to make it to his lab in order to check on his current experiment so we bundled up in all our snowboarding gear and walked across the Mass Ave Bridge to Cambridge. It was funny to see this normally super congested 4-lane bridge completely empty except for the occasional plow and a few people on skis.

It kind of looks like there's not a lot of snow on the road, right? That's because the wind was blowing over 40 miles per hour, whipping it onto the frozen Charles River and at our faces and nearly blowing us backwards in the middle of the bridge. At MIT, where Mike works, it was desolate… not a single other person in his whole lab, and no other buildings or businesses open. Even after living in New England for ten years I'm still excited and impressed by winters here… it takes a crazy storm to shut down New England and this was that storm. Here's my studio building and my street, totally deserted.

That's not to say it wasn't beautiful though. I don't live on some majestic sweeping prairie or up a forest trail where things are already pretty and made extra ethereal by fallen snow… however, a blanket of white does favors for my normally (overwhelmingly) bustling neighborhood. The train outside my studio windows stopped running and the thick flakes stifled what little sound was left from crunching boots and skis. When I went outside to snap a few photos after the storm, the air was so still that I heard the bouncing of each kernel of birdseed thrown by the priest next door and the flutter of chickadee wings swooping down from their evergreen homes before I even saw them around the corner. Holiday lights still wrapped around trees and hanging on brownstones made icy snowdrifts glimmer in the fading dusk light. Here's Commonwealth Avenue, three blocks from my studio:

Snow storms are a massive pain but kind of a blessing as well… they force most of us to snuggle in and turn down just a bit. Because I couldn't drive out of the city I had to reschedule my painting drop off at a local gallery, in turn giving me a few more hours with "Ghosts of the Coast," and I made some changes and additions that I otherwise wouldn't have had time to do.

When we last left off I had prepped a big canvas with old book pages for strength and dimension, and glued down some corrugated cardboard and newspaper. I'll be totally honest… one of my goals this year is to explore some new color territory and to help with that I'm picking paint swatches at the start of each painting and taping them to my canvas to keep me honest. I really wanted this piece to be a little neutral in color and let the found paper and textures do a lot of the talking, so I settled on this palette full of suburban beige, grey plums and arctic lavenders.

(Special thanks to Economy Hardware, whose employees are generous with paint chips even though I clearly am a renter with no walls to paint.)

For most of the rest of this painting I focused on texture, adding a lot of unexpected layers and objects.

One of my favorite new materials to work with was this discarded fishing net that I found on a beach pier in Maine during my last road trip. I have a totally new respect for my cousins Erica and Christina, Alaskan fisherwomen who have each lived on boats for weeks at a time hauling up salmon and halibut in the Bering Sea. Because this. stuff. stinks.

It stinks so bad!
It smells like fish in the worst way.
The worst.
Um, probably because it was used to haul fish and then left to rot on a pier in the sun for who knows how long until some naive trespasser thought it would be a great thing to bring home and then leave in a ziplock bag for three months. I was almost afraid to use it because it could have made my painting smell like THE WORST FISH (I really hope this is getting across how terribly terrible this rope smelled)… but luckily soaking it in ethanol took away the smell and the sealant I used put an impermeable layer over it. And it looks great! The texture is fantastic and unique, holding in little bits of paint and really roughing up the bottom edge. But really. It was gross at first.

I really love incorporating text and lettering into my paintings but it's not always necessary for the text to be the focal point, so I did so really subtle stenciling over the resting space of this canvas. The text was big enough to be a bold detail but not so heavy that it overwhelmed the main image.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the finished piece. However, it's currently hanging at Wedeman Gallery in Newton, MA at my first group art show, aptly titled Paper/Cut: The Contemporary Collage Show, until February 21. If you're in the area I hope you'll check it out! That is, if we're not all buried in snow by then...


  1. I followed your process and now it is beautiful to see how this painting evolved and finished.You are an inspiration :)

  2. This snow in Boston has been crazy! I tried snowshoeing out of my Medford neighborhood the night of the blizzard, but I was barricaded in my block by huge snowbanks! The view of the Comm Ave mall lit up by lights on the trees is one of my favorite views in the entire city :)

    And I am immediately enamored by your art project - do you have any time-lapse videos of you creating something like that??

    aka Bailey

    1. I wish I could do a time-lapse video... I've tried before, but my process is so scattered (do some work, mix some paint, let it dry, go do something else) that it just didn't work out. Plus each of these large paintings take days or even weeks to finish and that's a lot of video time ;)

  3. The neutral colors are awesome and serene! And I LOVE that you used the fishing net -- even though it was stinky!! haha. Can't wait to see a pic of the finished piece -- I hope you get one when you get the painting back... or at the show! :)

    1. Thanks Sue! It was worth experimenting with despite the smell, and luckily the alcohol and paint and sealant took care of that problem. I've never seen fishing net used in a painting before so I think it added a unique touch. I'll take a shot of the finished piece next time I'm at the gallery!

  4. I love your idea of using paint swatches to encourage new color schemes. GREAT IDEA!

  5. Wow! Thank you for not only sharing your art and the smell of fishy net (which I totally loved) but your snow experience. I live nowhere NEAR snow – Perth Australia – so it was a total experience to read your words. Nothing really closes down our city because we don't get snow, just extreme heat and everyone heads for the beach so it's a different scenario here. The weird thing is, that this year has been really kind to us and we've been getting really humid days instead of the dry searing heat we have in past years. We'll have one day of 39 to 40º and then it's back down to 31 to 33º. My three year old just came over and looked at your photos and was curious ... We've been talking about snow a lot lately and she woke this morning asking if she could pack a bag and go and catch a plane ... "Now, Mum, now!" Ha ha!!! She doesn't quite understand the concept of having / making money and booking a ticket. Thanks for the experience.